|Date:||September 26-27, 2015 Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time Cycle B|
There were two brothers who were farmers whose farms were next to each other. One of the brothers was married and had 6 children. The other had never married and lived alone. Both of them were very successful farmers, and each harvest their barns and their storage bins would overflow with produce. Every once in a while the brother who was single would go out to his barns and storage bins, and looking around, would think to himself, ďI am so blessed. I have more than I will ever need. My brother, however, has a wife and six children and he needs so much more than I do.Ē So he would load up a wagon with all kinds of produce, and in the middle of the night he would drive it over to his brotherís farm, dump the produce into his brothers storage bins and sneak away.
Every once in a while the married brother would go out to his barns and his storage bins and looking around, would think to himself, ďI am so blessed. I have more than I will ever need. My brother is all alone and will have no one to take care of him when he gets old while I have my family. He needs more than I do.Ē So he would load up a wagon with all kinds of produce, and in the middle of the night he would drive it over to his brotherís farm, dump the produce into his brothers storage bins and sneak away. This went on for years until one night, the two brothers ran into each other in the middle of the night, both of them sneaking produce to the other. After the surprise wore off, the two brothers laughed at what they had been doing, and the story spread all over the land. Many years later, when the community was deciding where to build a new church, they concluded that the best place would be right where those two brothers ran into each other while trying to sneak produce to the other.
Those brothers understood what it means to be favored by God, to be blessed.
All three of our readings today warn of us the dangers of not understanding what it means to be favored by God, to be blessed. Notice that I said that these readings warn us of the dangers of misunderstanding what it means to be favored by God. I did not say they warned us of the dangers of thinking we were favored. It is a natural human trait to want to feel special, to be singled out for blessings or favors. And our scriptures are full of the revelation that we have a God who loves to lavish his blessings on people. Our salvation history weaves through countless stories of people who are favored by God.
The basic misunderstanding of being favored by God is to think that we are favored over and above those around us. We start to feel that being special or favored means that God loves us more than he loves others, and that we are somehow better than those around us. We see how this can lead to jealousy in the story from the Book of Numbers, some 3200 years ago. When God told Moses to gather 70 of the elders so that he might give them a share of the spirit he had blessed Moses with, two of those on Mose's list, Eldad and Medad, did not show up. Yet later, Joshua sees them in the camp, filled with the spirit and prophesying. He is jealous because they did not go through the official ceremony, and yet they were blessed. Moses understands that when God favors some one or some people it is so that they can serve others. He longs for a time when all the people are so favored by God that his burden will be lighter.
1200 years later, the disciples have the same reaction. We just heard last week how the disciples were arguing among themselves as to who was the greatest among them, and now there are people who are not even one of their group who are working miracles in Jesusí name. They are jealous because they thought being selected as disciples made them better than those who were not disciples. Jesus knows that the Father bestows his abundant blessings on people so that they might use that abundance to serve those around them.
And James, in his letter, warns that thinking the material wealth is something that sets above others, to the point where we seek more wealth at the expense of others leads us down a path of ruin.
So what do these readings tell us about understanding how and why God chooses to bestow his favor on some? Are we to understand Jamesí letter to mean that having material wealth is bad? Are we to hear those stories from Numbers and Mark of the action of the Spirit outside the official channels to mean that it doesnít matter what religion we belong to, that all are the same and arbitrary?
I would suggest that we would have to ignore a whole lot of scripture to come to those conclusions. What Moses is trying to teach Joshua, and what Jesus is trying to teach the disciples, is first of all that Godís desire to favor creation can never be boxed in by human ideas of what is right and wrong. In the second place, they are trying to teach us that Godís favor is never just for the one person or people. God always chooses as special those who he has called to bring the reality of Godís love to those around them. His blessings are to equip those he has called to be able to carry out his plan of bringing salvation to all creation. As always, we have Jesus as our model of what it means to be favored by God, to be selected by God. Jesus is the beloved Son, most blessed of all human beings. And yet he understands that this favor, this love has been bestowed on him for the salvation of the world. So Jesus empties himself of all the glory, all the favor, all the blessings, to die on the cross so that all creation might live.
We are called to do the same. We Catholics are singled out, called by God by name in baptism, not just for our own sake; and if we are listening closely to Pope Francis, we American Catholics are doubly blessed. As Catholics, we are blessed with the intimacy of God in the flesh in the Eucharist, comforted in our repentance in the tangible forgiveness of Reconciliation, strengthened in sickness by the oil and touch of the Sacrament of Healing. As Americans we are blessed with almost unbelievable material resources. While all of these are blessings for us, they are not just for us. They are given to us to equip us to carry out the mission for which we are anointed: to be the body of Christ, the incarnation of Godís love in the world so that the world may be saved. As we met last week to continue writing the pastoral plan for the collaborative, it occurred to me that a simple way of envisioning this plan is to become a collaborative embodiment of Pope Francis. So I invite you to be curious about what it means to joyfully encounter Christ personally, become intentionally more active in this local part of the body of Christ, and then share that relationship with joy.